Online Friendships: Real or Illusion?
Yesterday, Frank Viola published a guest post on his blog, Beyond Evangelical, by Stephanie Bennett titled, “The ILLUSIONARY Nature of Online Friendships via Facebook & Other Social Media”
Some of the claims Stephanie makes in the blog post include:
One main challenge is in dealing with something we might call a hyper-knowing of others. This is that tendency to be much more open with those we don’t live with – sharing personal (and increasingly private) information about ourselves with those whom we have no primary responsibility or actual embodied experience. When this happens, people often feel they are closer to their distant online friends than they are to the people around them. The main problem here is that the online friendship is mostly illusional…
As we transfer more and more of our human communication to mediated environments (such as Facebook) we inadvertently limit our ability to grow, both spiritually and in our relationships. Instead of depth of relationship we are more apt to gain relationships that are sparse, superficial, and unsatisfying.
Trust, loyalty, faithfulness — all are developed in an environment that is tangible, actual – a place where people are meeting face-to-face, sharing Christ through words and deeds.
Social Media Pitfalls
I’ve been using social media long enough to know there are certainly valid concerns about social media.
- There is a danger in sharing too much personal information online.
- There is a danger in pursuing social media popularity because it feels good to have lots of friends and likes and comments.
- There is a danger that one could end up with lots of superficial online connections at the expense of deep face-to-face relationship.
What concerns me about the article is it seems to indicate these problems are virtual certainties. There are potential pitfalls with social media, but aren’t they avoidable? And aren’t there also ways social media can enhance the relationships we have with offline friends and even lead to new, genuine friendships?
Stories and Anecdotal Evidence
We could talk theorhetically about this all day, but I don’t think it would be nearly as helpful as sharing real-life stories.
A second example, I forget exactly when I first connected with Mark Merrill who is founder of Family First and All Pro Dad, but I believe it was either through Twitter or his blog. We interacted through Twitter and then had lunch together. Because of my friendship with Mark, I became more involved in the All Pro Dad chapter at my kids’ school, and when Mark’s book All Pro Dad was published, I helped spread the word about it through a couple posts on my LiveIntentionally.org blog and social media.
If we can agree that social media has both upside and downside for deep relationships, then we can move the conversation beyond “yes or no” to “how and when.”
Can you share any stories about how social media has deepened any or your relationships or led to new, meaningful friendships? Or to be even-handed, do you have any stories to share of where social media has harmed friendships or led you or a friend to withdraw?